Greece Says EU-Turkey Refugee Swap Working (Maybe)

Refugees on the island of Chios

ATHENS  – A government official in Greece says there is no sign a deal between the European Union and Turkey to stop migrants coming to Europe has faltered since the attempted military coup in the country – but the Immigration Minister wants a back-up plan in case it comes apart.

Giorgos Kyritsis, a spokesman for a government crisis committee, told the Associated Press Aug. 3 that daily arrivals by migrants and refugees at Greek islands facing Turkey’s coast have remained low since the deadly coup attempt on July 15.

But he said Athens had renewed requests to the EU to end delays in an emergency funding and the implementation of a relocation program for migrants stranded in Greece.

Tension has risen between Turkey and the EU over alleged large-scale human rights abuses and other issues following the coup attempt, prompting concern that the migrant deal could collapse.

But Immigration Minister Yanis Mouzalas told Germany’s Bild Daily that, “We are very worried. We need a Plan B in any case,” undercutting Kyritsis’ optimism.

So close to Turkey, Greece has become the prime destination for refugees and migrants trying to get to the European Union, which has closed its doors to them and left 57,000 stranded in Greece.

Arrival numbers have since plunged following an EU-Turkey deal reached in March, in which Turkey agreed to take back Syrian migrants arriving in Greece in exchange for billions of euros in aid and visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens. Fewer than 200 have been returned.

But relations with Turkey have splintered since a coup failed to remove President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has countered with a brutal crackdown and massive arrests, firings and purges and with plans to execute people.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Monday that Ankara could withdraw from the accord if Europe failed to allow visa-free travel for Turks by October.

But his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier rejected any talk of “blackmail,” telling Rheinische Post newspaper: “That is absurd.”

”The fact is there are conditions for the visa-free policy and they are known to everyone,” he said.

”Turkey pledged to undertake the necessary steps to hold up its end of the agreement. That is not yet the case and Turkey still has work to do,” he said, Agence France Presse reported.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)